Barcelona: What Can Be Learned from Real Madrid's Champions League Match

Thomas HallettCorrespondent IIFebruary 14, 2013

MADRID, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 13:  Patrice Evra of Manchester United and Michael Carrick of Manchester United marshall Mesut Ozil of Real Madrid during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Real Madrid and Manchester United at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on February 13, 2013 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Barcelona were given a week off from European duty and were able to take in the Champions League outings of both Valencia and Real Madrid.

With two Clasicos coming up in the next few weeks, there was a great deal Barcelona would have learned from Madrid's 1-1 draw against Manchester United.

It's interesting that despite speeding away in the La Liga title race and looking good enough to capture three major trophies this season, the focus hasn't really been on Barcelona.

Real Madrid have had to deal with one of the oddest seasons in recent memory and find themselves well and truly out of the title race, languishing 16 points behind Barcelona.

But Jose Mourinho's team were either frustrating or frustrated against Manchester United, whichever way you want to look at it.

They were unable to enforce their counterattacking game to its most lethal effect, largely because it seemed United were taking up that game plan themselves. And for the most part, Madrid were incapable of converting the great deal of possession they had in and around the United penalty area.

Barcelona, of course, are likely to be the team offering Madrid the opportunity to counter, as the Catalans will see plenty of the ball as always. But it was interesting that Madrid were quite flat and seemed to run out of ideas as the Champions League tie progressed. Yes, they came close to adding to their solitary goal, which came via Cristiano Ronaldo, but the attackers, and especially both Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain, were never able to convert.

Credit should be given to Manchester United and David de Gea in goal, but this just seemed like another one of those games this season where Madrid were unable to hit their peak.

When the opportunities did arise, the counterattack looked slow and a far cry from their blitzkrieg attacking system deployed to such effect last season.

Now, the league title is of no great concern for Barcelona—it looks to be as good as wrapped up at this point. But the Copa del Rey and, of course, pride is at stake.

A big weakness for Madrid this season has been their lack of authority when dealing with aerial attacks. However, Barcelona are unlikely to make much use of that considering much of their game is central to keeping the ball on the deck. A barrage of crosses from the flanks is just not Barcelona's game.

It was interesting that both Madrid and Valencia saw plenty of possession in their games against Manchester United and PSG, respectively. However, both failed to make their dominance count. Both of the opposition on the day looked comfortable for certain stretches of the game, either through Phil Jones doing an excellent defensive job for United or PSG waiting out Valencia's attack, which was far from intimidating.

Barcelona, of course, do not play Valencia again this season, so their tie with PSG wouldn't directly affect Tito Vilanova's side. But the problem is that it will be difficult for Barcelona to take any great deal of confidence from Madrid's performance.

It's not that Barcelona are unable to take anything from Madrid—remember, their only win against Mourinho's side this season came in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup back at the start of the campaign—but rather because they don't know what to expect.

We've seen three Madrid teams this season: the terrible, mess of a team who have lost to teams like Granada; the team who looked to have their act together but not quite to the level needed to overcome a good opposition, as was seen against United on Wednesday night; and the rampaging, wildly exciting and devastating team that put five past Valencia.

In the Spanish Super Cup second leg, we saw Madrid at their best, relentlessly firing volleys towards the Barcelona goal. It didn't even come down to a matter of Barcelona playing to their natural, possession-based game. Madrid were simply better.

A point to take away from Madrid's attack was the impact Angel Di Maria had.

Now, plenty has been said this season about the Argentinian's lack of contribution to the team, but he looked to come alive when offered a free role in the midfield. He started on the right flank but it soon became apparent that he was dictating much more of the play as he roamed around the final third.

Mesut Ozil is one of the key danger men for Madrid, of course. But Di Maria can offer so much when he's on top form. The game against United offered glimpses of the midfielder's quality that we saw in abundance in the 5-0 league win over Valencia.

Madrid are far from down and out of either the Champions League or the Copa del Rey. But it might be seen that Barcelona hold the stronger hand, with two Clasicos and the second leg of the Champions League tie against Manchester United coming thick and fast for Madrid.

Whatever way you want to put it, Mourinho doesn't appear to have as much confidence in his entire squad as Vilanova does at the Camp Nou, and that could be the deciding factor over the next few weeks.


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